Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art

Cindy Sherman’s (1954-) innovative artwork has allowed her to become one of the most influential artists of our time. Her work, an exploration of identity, individuality and representation, places her as one of the premier women of art as she transforms herself into an array of personas and characters. At the Museum of Modern art, 170 photographs of Sherman’s work will be on display through June.  This work covers her film stills from the late 1970s, her European art-history portraits, and her more current work with the representation of youth and aging.

Throughout the exhibit the viewer is given a glimpse into Sherman’s long and strong career. Cindy Sherman gives the term “photographer” an entirely different definition. Since she is in almost every single one of her photographs, she is no longer just the person who physically takes the photograph, but the person who designs what goes into the lens. Sherman completes all her photographs independently in her studio. She uses a variety of makeup and prosthetics to transform herself into many different characters.

Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer sees Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills.” These small, black-and-white photographs were taken from 1977-1978 and are comprised of many of the female clichés and stereotypes seen in movies during the 1950s. In these photographs her subjects take on an array of identities such as the housewife, the tourist, the lost loner and the temptress. They force us, as the viewer, to question the roles that women were given throughout film and the impression that these clichés leave on our culture. Sherman explores different identities to better understand them.

After the “Untitled Film Stills,” the work morphs into a larger and grander scale. In her Fashion series, Sherman mocks the industry’s projection of glamour and sex as a way to define beauty. The capricious photographs force us to realize the impression that the fashion industry leaves with us by showing how the female identity is so easily manipulated through industry and what that means for women as a whole. Sherman plays on the way men depict women and makes us aware the definitions inflicted by gender.

In Sherman’s history photographs she considers the relationship between the subject and the artist and how that effects representation and stereotypes. She plays the classic roles of the milkmaid, the aristocrat, Madonna with child and many male roles. Throughout the retrospective, Sherman uses theatricality to expose how society marginalizes and defines individuals. Her work speaks to the importance of how women see themselves and necessity of female impowerment. Overall her retrospective is inspirational and a must-see.

Cindy Sherman has created a niche for herself within art that has solidified her important role in history. This show will be on the 6th floor of the Museum of Modern Art through June 11th.   Do not miss it!

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Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was a twentieth-century pioneer in sculptural contemporary art.  Her work, consisting primarily of grouping organic and often abstract shapes, has a unique style that transformed Bourgeois into a legend and leader in the art world. Bourgeois uses art to express her relationships with her family as well as the important role that sexuality has played in her life both within and outside of her family.

Born in Paris in 1911 to parents that owned an art gallery that sold tapestries, Bourgeois grew up surrounded by art. Throughout her childhood, Bourgeois was constantly exposed to and affected by the art around her.  At 13, Bourgeois discovered that her father was having an affair with her baby-sitter and her teacher. Resentment for her father continued to grow abetted by his constant disapproval due to her inability to succeed. She constantly had to deal with his verbally abusive behavior. The resentment she had for her father took expression in some of the art she produced.

Bourgeois studied at several art schools such as the Ecole du Louvre, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Académie Julian, and under Fernand Leger. When her mother died in 1932 Bourgeois immersed herself further into her art.

Bourgeois met Robert Goldwater, her future husband, when he came to purchase prints from her family’s store. Goldwater was a highly regarded art historian from America who worked in the field of primitive art. Together in 1938, Bourgeois and Goldwater moved to New York where she continued her studies at the Arts Students League of New York.

During the 1940’s and 1950’s Bourgeois found herself immersed in the Abstract Expressionist movement although she had a different process and inspiration than the other Abstract Expressionists. She was influenced by her childhood and the tensions and resentment that existed as she grew up.

She continued to work throughout the 1960’s and in 1974, Bourgeois created one of the most important works of her career. This work, entitled Destruction of the Father, reflects the relationship between children and an overbearing father. The piece is a womb-like structure that inside looks like a crime scene. Within the structure exists the abstract structures of children who have destroyed their overbearing father by murdering and eating him. This work depicts her own inner-struggle to deal with her father.

In the 1990’s, Bourgeois began to use spiders throughout her work. She created several spider sculptures that are done on a gigantic scale. These sculptures, called Maman, are found in the Tate Modern. They reflect the strength and nurturing nature of her mother. Bourgeois used her work to speak up for LGBT equality issues. In 2010, Bourgeois died of heart failure in New York City.

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Loretta Lux

Loretta Lux (1969-Present) is one of a few artists (Cindy Sherman is a prime example) who has been able to transform the way I see digital photography. Loretta Lux is testament to how the digital age has brought great things to art. Her works usually depict surreal portraits of young children.

Lux grew up in Dresden, East Germany moving to Munich shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  From 1990-1996, Lux studied as a painter at the Academy of Visual Arts in Munich. It was not until 1999 that Lux began to take photographs. As a budding photographer, Lux began with self-portraits and eventually evolved into photographing young children. She enjoyed dolling up her young models, often children of friends, in well-devised hairdos and placing the children into formal poses and positions. Lux’s work in painting inspired her to use computer manipulation with her photographs. Lux would take photographs and then transform, blur and distort her subjects. Throughout 2000-2003, Lux worked and showed almost exclusively in Europe. In 2004, Lux had a debut exhibition at the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City. The Yossi Milo show transformed Lux’s career and the sale of her work began to take off.

Lux’s work is both unique and bold. She claims to photograph children as she finds them to be the most honest of subjects. Lux has complete control over the outcome of her photographs from imposing a background to manipulating the children’s features and even choosing their poses.  Lux has transformed the photograph into a canvas through her use of computer manipulation. As there is no exact meaning to her work, it is easy to struggle with how such work should be interpreted.   I see Lux’s work as a reflection of the metaphors seen throughout childhood. Lux has received the International Center of Photography’s prestigious Infinity Award and, in 2007, showed her work at the Guggenheim Museum.

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Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz, born in Connecticut in 1949, is currently one of America’s most important and influential photographers. The daughter of a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Leibovitz was forced to move from town to town as her father was moved to different Air Force bases. Throughout high school Leibovitz became increasingly interested in the arts and eventually attended the San Francisco Art Institute where she initially studied painting before falling in love with photography.

In 1970, Leibovitz was hired as a staff photographer for the just launched Rolling Stone magazine. Three years later, Leibovitz was named Rolling Stone’s chief photographer, a position she would hold for 10 years. While at Rolling Stone, Leibovitz recognized that while she worked as a photographer for a magazine it was also important that she pursue her own personal visions. It is her personal work that creates a rich narrative of Leibovitz’s life.  Leibovitz was the concert-tour photographer for the Rolling Stones Tour of the America’s in 1975. In this series she gained recognition for her now famous photograph of Mick Jagger in an elevator.

On December 8th, 1980, Leibovitz was sent to do a photoshoot with John Lennon for Rolling Stone. It was in this shoot that she captured John Lennon with Yoko Ono in a photograph that revealed their relationship to the world. In the photograph we see Lennon exposed, nude, and vulnerable, holding on tightly to the strong and serious Yoko Ono. This photograph was taken spontaneously and was the last photograph ever taken of John Lennon. Later that day, John Lennon was shot and killed outside his home. In 2009, Lennon’s son Sean Lennon recreated that very same photograph posing with his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl. The only difference between the two photographs was that in Sean’s rendition, Sean and Kemp reversed the roles played by John and Yoko in the original photograph (Sean was clothed, Kemp was naked). Another series of photographs that Leibovitz is renowned for are the Alice in Wonderland for Vogue works. These photographs exemplify Leibovitz’s ability to work successfully in the realm of fashion photography. The series is a quirky and unique body of work.

Annie Leibovitz is known for her innovative use of light and color to create bursting photographs of celebrities. Leibovitz was the first woman to ever have a show at the National Portrait Gallery and, in 2007, a major retrospective of her work was presented at the Brooklyn Museum. Leibovitz is still known to take photographs that expose and reveal celebrities for the people they truly are. Her photographs are provocative, honest and sometimes even crude.  Over the years she has photographed for Vanity Fair and several other recognized publications. As Leibovitz’s career continues to soar, she remains one of today’s most influential living photographers.

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Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), considered to be one of America’s most influential photojournalists and documentary photographers, is best known for her works that humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and the Japanese-American internment of World War II. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, as Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn, Dorothea assumed her mother’s maiden name (Lange) after her father abandoned the family when she was 12 years old. Lange’s upbringing was never easy. At the age of 7 Lange contracted polio which left her with a permanent limp. Lange faced significant struggles growing up but eventually attended Columbia University and apprenticed in photography studios throughout New York until she moved to San Francisco in 1918. Over the next 10 years. Until the onset of the Great Depression, Lange worked primarily as a portrait studio photographer.

With the Great Depression Lange began to document what was going on in the streets focusing on the many homeless and unemployed people struggling to survive. In 1935 she was hired by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) where she devoted the majority of her time to photographing the plight of displaced families and migrant workers bringing their causes to the public’s attention. Lange’s work for the FSA brought the struggles of America’s forgotten to each American’s doorstep. Her images are considered icons for that era. One of Lange’s best-known works is called Migrant Mother.

In 1941, Lange was given a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in photography. With this grant, she began to document the Japanese American internment camps that began to pop up in California after the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Lange’s haunting images presented the atrocities that were occurring in America throughout World War II.  Many of her images were so controversial that the Army impounded them.

In 1945, Ansel Adams offered Lange a position in the first fine art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), now renamed the San Francisco Art Institute, and in 1952, Lange became one of the co-founders of the influential photography magazine Aperture, which remains one of today’s most influential photo magazines.  She continued to work, teach, and produce until her death in 1965. Lange died of esophageal cancer at the age of 70.

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Georgia O’Keeffe

A legend and a master in the field of painting, Georgia Totto O’Keeffe is one of the most renowned American artists who achieved such success in a time before women had access to proper art training. O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is responsible for creating a greater acceptance for females in the artistic field of painting that was, at the time, dominated by men.

O’Keeffe was born in Wisconsin and her parents were both farmers. O’Keeffe was one of seven children and, as the first daughter, was given great responsibility. By age 10 O’Keeffe decided that her destiny was to become an artist. She studied under local watercolorist Sara Mann.

From 1905-1906, O’Keeffe studied at the School of Art Institute in Chicago and in 1907 she transferred to the Arts Students League in New York City. O’Keeffe studied under William Merritt Chase and, in 1908, was awarded the Arts Students League’s William Merritt Chase Still Life prize for her oil painting Mona Shehab. Her award was to study at the League’s summer school at Lake George. Before leaving for the summer, O’Keeffe met her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Throughout the next couple of years, O’Keeffe held herself back from success believing she could not thrive in the art field because she was a woman. Instead of focusing on making art she taught in public schools and Universities.

O’Keeffe did keep in constant contact with Stieglitz. Eventually in 1916, Stieglitz convinced O’Keeffe to move to New York and to devote all of her time to her work. In 1918, O’Keeffe came to New York and shortly after, moved in with Stieglitz who was 23 years her senior. She began to work intensely at Stieglitz’s family home in the village of Lake George. In 1924, the two were wed and she can be seen in many of Stieglitz’s greatest photographs.

In 1929, O’Keeffe spent her first of many summers in New Mexico painting where she explored the rugged mountains and unique scenery and where she completed her famous painting, The Lawrence Tree. O’Keeffe spent at least a portion of the next twenty years in New Mexico.  Her work is subject to many interpretations, the flower paintings often evoke feminist ideas or feminine allusions.

In 1936, O’Keeffe became interested in a site known as The Black Place in New Mexico. She did an extensive series of paintings there and later pursued another series from the White Place. Though O’Keeffe continued to paint for nearly the next 35 years in 1972 macular degeneration, lead to the loss of her central vision. She continued working aided by her peripheral vision until 1984. She also began to work with clay and watercolors.

In 1977, President Gerald R. Ford awarded O’Keeffe The Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1985; O’Keeffe was awarded the National Medal of Arts. When O’Keeffe died in 1986, she had become a legendary artist.

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Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin, an active member of the photography community for the last 40 years, has created a career based around raw, honest, intimate, and exposing photographs. Her work pushes beyond the boundaries of what we, as a society, expect to see in art.

Goldin (1953-Present) was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Washington, D.C.. Shortly thereafter, her family moved into a suburb of Boston.In 1965, Goldin was transformed after her sister, Barbara Holly Goldin, committed suicide at only 18 years old. After this horrific experience, Goldin lost faith in the traditional family, moved in with a series of foster families, and enrolled in the  Satya Community School, an alternative school. During this time, the memory of her sister began to grow hazy and so Goldin began to photograph her friends and families to preserve the present. Photography created an opportunity for Goldin to never lose her memories. Goldin continued to photograph her friends throughout the 1960s. During the early 1970s, Goldin was introduced to the drag subculture in Boston. She began to photograph drag queen beauty contests and felt that drag was an opportunity to for an individual to reinvent oneself. Goldin like to play with the idea of perception and used photography to confront how the viewer defined the individual.

Goldin’s first solo show was held in Boston in 1973. This show was based on her journey through Boston’s transsexual community. In 1978, Goldin graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts University. After graduation, Goldin moved to New York where she began to document the new-wave music scene. Her photographs depict the hard-living lifestyle found at the time in New York. In the 1980s, Goldin documented the excessive abuse of alcohol and drugs as well as the abusive relationships seen throughout Goldin’s circle of friends. Goldin created an incredibly detailed and intense portrait of her group of friends. By 1988, Goldin herself began to suffer from drug and alcohol abuse. She entered a detoxification and rehabilitation clinic. Throughout her time in the clinic, Goldin began to experiment with self-portraiture. This was the first time in Goldin’s career that she had created such an intense portrait of herself. After leaving the clinic, Goldin continued to face personal struggles which included watching several of her friends die from AIDS.  Goldin created a series of photographs (The Cookie Portfolio) documenting one of her closest friends Cookie Mueller. The photographs were taken at parties they attended growing up and ended at her funeral, after Cookie died of AIDS in 1989.

In 1994, Goldin created a series of photographs with her old friend David Armstrong called A Double Life. In this series, Goldin and Armstrong each took portraits of the same person using their own unique styles and techniques. In 1996, The Whitney held a retrospective of Goldin’s work. There was also a retrospective of her work at the Pompidou in 2002. Her work has been shown throughout the globe and in 2007 she was presented the The Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. Goldin is represented by Matthew Marks Gallery in New York.

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